Shrapnel wounds are some of the most dangerous injuries veterans face in combat zones. Flying pieces of land mines, bombs, bullets, and even vehicles can cause serious damage to muscles, nerves, and the brain. Some of these problems may persist for years, but getting an appropriate VA rating for shrapnel injuries can be difficult.
The key to getting the highest VA rating for a shrapnel wound is being honest with your doctor and the VA. Read on to learn more about the problems these wounds can cause and how you can get the most from your claim.
Table of contents
- Overview of Shrapnel Injuries
- Musculoskeletal Conditions
- Ratings for These Conditions
- TBI and Shrapnel
- TBI Ratings
- Qualifying for VA Disability
- Getting a Diagnosis
- Proving Your Service Connection
- Showing a Medical Nexus
- How VA Disability Ratings Work
- Disability Compensation Rates
- What to Do If Your Rating Is Too Low
- What to Expect from the Appeals Process
- Tips for Increasing Your Rating
- Get the Highest VA Rating for a Shrapnel Wound
Overview of Shrapnel Injuries
Before we dive into all the VA disability rating specifics on shrapnel wounds, let’s take a moment to talk about what these wounds are and what sorts of dangers they can pose. Shrapnel is a small bit of a bomb, mine, shell, or another projectile. When someone is standing near an explosion, these fragments can tear into their body, causing a wide variety of wounds.
Shrapnel wounds are at huge risk for infection since the piece of metal that gets blown into the body isn’t exactly sterile. There may also be burn wounds associated with these injuries since most of the time, shrapnel is red-hot when it enters the body. And then veterans may have health problems that last long after the wound has closed over and they’ve returned home.
One of the most common long-term complications for veterans with shrapnel wounds are musculoskeletal conditions. When a veteran receives a shrapnel wound, they can receive muscle damage that may not heal properly. You may have permanent muscle weakness in the affected area, or you may have a scar in the muscle tissue that limits your range of motion.
If a wound is severe enough or does not receive proper treatment, it can become severely infected. These infections may continue for years and could require prolonged hospitalization for treatment. In some cases, a veteran may even lose muscle due to a shrapnel wound.
Ratings for These Conditions
In general, musculoskeletal conditions are divided into four different levels for rating purposes. A condition may be rated as slight, moderate, moderately severe, and severe. All of these will have different rating levels, which we’ll discuss more in-depth later on.
Musculoskeletal condition ratings are also based on where the injury occurred. The VA divides the body into five regions for this purpose: shoulder girdle and arm, forearm and hand, foot and leg, pelvic girdle and thigh, and torso and neck. Different regions may receive higher or lower ratings, depending on how much they impact your day-to-day functioning.
TBI and Shrapnel
In some cases, shrapnel can actually cause a traumatic brain injury. If a piece of shrapnel penetrates your skull, it can injure your brain, causing immediate trauma to the tissues there. But over time, cerebrospinal fluid may also leak out of the hole in the skull and cause additional complications.
If you had TBI as a result of a shrapnel injury, you may experience a variety of different symptoms. You could experience a variety of mental disorders, loss of speech, loss of muscle control, or even extreme personality changes. You may also have been in a coma or experience problems with other major systems in your body.
Traumatic brain injuries related to shrapnel wounds will be rated based on what symptoms you have. For instance, if you get an abscess on your brain due to your injury, you’ll get a 100 percent rating while the condition is active and for three months after. After the three months are up, you’ll get a new rating based on standards for the central nervous system, with a minimum rating of 10 percent.
Your doctors will look at all of your symptoms that may be related to your TBI. These get processed through a complex rating system to come up with one overall rating that reflects how much your injury impacts your life. Be sure you’re open with your doctors about all of your symptoms to avoid losing out on rating points because you didn’t mention something.
Qualifying for VA Disability
In order to qualify for VA disability, you must be able to meet three criteria. First, you must have an official diagnosis from a VA-approved medical professional. You may be able to go to your own doctor to get this diagnosis, but you may still need to attend a C&P exam in order to have your claim approved.
Once you have your diagnosis, you must be able to point to a specific injury or event in your service record that caused your condition. Then, your doctor must provide a medical nexus linking the service record event to your condition. This means it must be at least as likely as not that your condition was caused by your service.
It may be difficult to get 100% TDIU from one disability, but here one of our VA disability lawyers talks about common disabilities that add up to a 100% combined rating.
Getting a Diagnosis
If you have a shrapnel wound, you may wonder why you have to get another diagnosis. After all, didn’t the medic who treated you after your wound diagnose the condition – there’s a chunk of metal stuck in this person’s body? But you will need a diagnosis of an ongoing condition to qualify for continuing VA support.
Make an appointment with your doctor, and in the meantime, start making notes of all the symptoms you have associated with your condition. Write down any pain, muscle weakness, loss of coordination, infection, and work inhibition symptoms you experience. Try to make notes of how often they happen so you can tell your doctor during your appointment.
Proving Your Service Connection
Once your doctor has diagnosed you with an ongoing condition, you will need to be able to prove that there was an event in your military service that caused this wound. In the case of shrapnel wounds, this may be fairly straightforward. You were likely treated for your wound by military doctors, so there should already be official documentation on hand.
You’ll need to get hands-on your service record to prove this connection. There are several ways you can do this, starting with contacting the National Personnel Records Center and submitting Standard Form 180. You can also contact your local VA office for help getting your service record.
Showing a Medical Nexus
With your diagnosis and service record in hand, you will just need to get official documentation proving the two are connected. This is to prevent veterans from claiming VA disability compensation for conditions that happened after they left the service. You can’t get a concussion in a car accident fifteen years after you leave the service and claim VA disability compensation for it.
Your doctor should be able to give you a medical nexus stating that, yes, your diagnosed condition was caused by the event in your service record. If you want to speed this process along, you may want to look into getting your service record before your doctor’s appointment. That way you can get your diagnosis and your nexus at the same time and begin your disability application sooner.
How VA Disability Ratings Work
Once you’re approved for VA disability compensation, you’ll be assigned a disability rating. These are expressed as percentages and are meant to reflect how much your condition impacts your ability to live a normal, productive life. As we discussed previously, different conditions are eligible for different disability ratings.
VA disability ratings range from 10 percent to 100 percent and have a huge impact on how much money you receive from the VA each month. If you have multiple ratings for different conditions, those can be combined to give you an overall disability rating. For instance, if you have a 40 percent rating for a shrapnel wound and a 30 percent rating for PTSD, you will have a 58 percent overall disability rating, which will be rounded to 60 percent for compensation purposes.
Disability Compensation Rates
The VA bases the amount of money they send you each month primarily on your disability rating. For instance, if you have a rating of 10 percent, you’ll receive $152.64 per month tax-free. If you have a rating of 20 percent, you’ll get $301.74.
For ratings above 30 percent, the VA will also take into consideration how many people depend on you financially.
What to Do If Your Rating Is Too Low
Oftentimes, even if your disability claim is approved, the rating the VA assigns you may be too low. They want to assign a rating that reflects the lowest possible impact on your life. But oftentimes, you may have additional symptoms that your rating doesn’t cover.
If your claim is denied or the rating you get is too low, you can always appeal your ruling. If you plan to go this route, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer who specializes in VA disability law. Not only can they help you navigate the complicated appeals process, but they can also show you how to optimize your claim to get the highest possible rating.
What to Expect from the Appeals Process
The most important thing during your appeals process is to stay on top of things and never give up. There are going to be a lot of deadlines you have to meet, so make sure you act quickly and stay organized. You’re also going to have to send in a lot of forms and documentation, and it’s a good idea to make sure they get into the right people’s hands.
Don’t get discouraged if your claim or your first appeal gets denied. You can appeal your case all the way up to the BVA in Washington, D.C., if needed. Keep asking, “What’s the next step?” and talk to a lawyer who specializes in cases like yours before you give up and accept a rating that’s too low for your condition.
Here, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about what we do when we appeal your case to the Veteran’s Administration.
Tips for Increasing Your Rating
When you’re filling out your application or appeal for VA disability compensation, make sure you don’t leave anything out of your account. The VA can’t rate you for symptoms they don’t know about, so make sure you tell them about the real impact your disability is having on your life. You don’t want to lie or invent symptoms, but if your shoulder hurts every time you try to wash your hair or cook dinner for your family, let them know about it.
Also, try to make your accounts personal; if the reviewers can feel the impact your wound has on your life, they’ll be more likely to give you a higher rating. Tell them about the way your injury impacts your work (I have to ask for help every time I need to adjust something at my workstation), your relationships (I haven’t been able to play tennis with my best friend in three years), and your mental state (I’m fighting anxiety and depression because I feel like I can’t do anything in my life). You may also want to ask family and friends to write their own accounts of the impact your injury has on all of your lives.
Get the Highest VA Rating for a Shrapnel Wound
Shrapnel wounds can be deadly when they happen and can impact your life for years afterward. If you’ve suffered one of these injuries and your rating is too low, be persistent with your appeals process. Stay organized, be open about the impact your condition has on your life, and don’t take no for an answer.
If you’d like help getting the highest VA rating for a shrapnel wound, get in touch with us at Woods and Woods. We fight for veterans every day, and you don’t pay unless we win. Contact us today to start getting the full compensation amount you deserve.